We were made to move: the health benefits of exercise

Stanley Park - Davidicus Wong

On Saturday, May 4th at 10 am, the doctors of Vancouver are inviting everyone to join them for a fun and easy 1 to 2 km Walk With Your Doc around Kitsilano Beach. Register at www.walkwithyourdoc.ca and come early to get your free pedometer. I’ll be there.

We were made to move.

It’s part of the harsh reality of evolutionary medicine.

Have you ever wondered why your doctor tells you not to eat some of your favourite foods? French fries, hamburgers, chocolates, donuts and practically anything else you can eat at the PNE.

I sometimes joke with patients that if it’s satisfying and tasty, it’s probably not good for you. Their appetites don’t get the joke.

So why do we crave what’s bad for us?

In general, most of the genetic traits modern humans share had some survival value in the distant past. Intelligence, manual dexterity, good hearing and vision allowed our ancestors to survive against predators and other dangers in a harsher world.

We are therefore hardwired to crave for sugary foods that would give our predecessors the fuel to run away from wild animals and the fatty foods that would provide them with a layer of body fat to keep warm and survive a cold winter.

But some of our inherited traits no longer provide a survival advantage with our modern way of life. We don’t need so much glucose to run away from predators, and in the warmer parts of Canada – where most of us live, we don’t need the extra fat.

For us, the extra calories and fat can contribute to greater health risks, including diabetes, heart disease, strokes and some types of cancer. You can only eat like a cave man or cave woman if you move like one, and I don’t mean the bad posture.

Our bodies have evolved to be in motion, but many of us are physically inactive throughout the day – sitting in front of desks, TVs and computers, driving or taking transit instead of walking or cycling. Many of our kids are less active than we were. Their thumbs get more exercise than their legs.

How much exercise do we need?

Though your family doctor can help you determine what’s best for you, Health Canada recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise (such as brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling or Zumba dancing) five times a week. You don’t have to do it all in one go. You could do a quick 15-minute walk twice a day.

Exercise has health benefits that go beyond burning off the calories of your favourite foods. Exercise can tone and strengthen your muscles, prevent osteoporosis, maintain a good sense of balance and reduce falls, and help you maintain a good range of motion in your joints.

Exercise has been shown to improve your immune system, raise HDL (the good cholesterol) and reduce your risk for strokes and heart attacks. Regular exercise can prevent diabetes in those who are susceptible and help control blood sugars in those who do have diabetes.

Exercise is good for your mind. By improving the circulation to your brain, it can help you maintain mental fitness and reduce the risk of dementia. Cardiovascular exercise releases your body’s natural painkillers, endorphins that can promote a sense of wellbeing. For this reason, psychiatrists prescribe daily exercise to their patients with anxiety and depression.

Regular exercise may lengthen your life (by an estimated average of 7 years) and improve the quality of your life. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get moving!

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician at the PrimeCare Medical Centre. His Healthwise column appears regularly in the Now newspapers and the Vancouver Courier. 

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About Davidicus Wong

I am a family physician. I write a weekly newspaper column, Healthwise for the Vancouver Courier, Burnaby Now, Royal City Record and Richmond News.
This entry was posted in Exercise, Healthy Living, Physical Activity, Positive Change, Preventive Health and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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